Mark and I spoke at the Learning Without Frontiers conference last week about building a generation of webmakers. We got to chat with lots of people at the conference, as well as many folks whose heads are in the same space around London itself.
It was inspiring to hang out in London, where the climate seems very muchso primed for this discussion. Everyone was discussing Eric Schmidt’s criticisms of the UK education system in technology, and Michael Gove’s recent announcements.
[Schmidt] said he had been flabbergasted to learn that computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools, despite what he called the “fabulous initiative” in the 1980s when the BBC not only broadcast programmes for children about coding, but shipped over a million BBC Micro computers into schools and homes.
“Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage,” he said.
These types of statements seemed to have caused a massive wakeup call, and the response has been great. There now seems to be widespread agreement that we need to increase the digital literacy in kids, and that agreement spans from parents right through to the highest levels of government. You don’t get this sort of “yes, of course we need to do this” violent head nodding in the US or Canada.
There’s some interesting scalability differences as well. For example, in North America we’ve decided that the easiest way to push this curriculum through is to go around the system — reaching out to the BAVCs and Ladies Learning Codes — and working with these non-traditional learning groups. This is sort of the Boy Scout model, as Mark likes to say: a scalable network of volunteers teaching outside of the formal learning system.
But in the UK it’s completely different. For one, there seems to be less of these types of networks already in play; several people we talked to mentioned that after school learning happens almost exclusively in the schools themselves, taught by teachers. But secondly, there seems to be a path for getting new curriculum into the schools and actually formally taught to kids — something that is completely foreign out here.
The level of (total lack of) resistance was awesome. “Yes! Let’s do this!” We’re definitely having the Mozilla Festival in London in November, and there’s a Mozilla London office opening early Spring, so there’s at least two events that we can build off of.
There’s definitely a huge opportunity here. Mozilla is dreaming big and a lot of groups in London are dreaming the same dream. And whether that’s getting 10,000 kids at a giant jamboree in the O2, finding a way to scale and expand the Young Rewired States of the UK, or actually influencing school curriculum, it definitely feels like the possibility for big change is real, just around the corner, and awesome.